Music of the Unsung America

ACF | connect’s Partnership with Portia Dunkley

Saint Paul, MN (October 5, 2020) – South Florida is rich with historic Black musical traditions that are diverse, vibrant, and span generations. Miami native Portia Dunkley grew up surrounded by these traditions, and as a professional Classical musician living there today, she wants to see more professional ensembles that encompass the rich tapestry of her community. So she is starting her own. Music of the Unsung America: Celebrating Composers in the Shadows of History highlights the music of Black composers with community events and performances by chamber and orchestra ensembles made up of the artists who share her roots in South Florida. American Composers Forum (ACF) is proud to partner with Portia for this project – as part of their ACF I connect program – to help Portia realize her vision, seek out composers and collaborators, and provide equitable professional performance opportunities for and from the extraordinary, diverse community of South Florida.  

“Coming up as a young musician, and even my professional career, I rarely if at all, saw myself reflected in the Classical music ensembles I performed with or in Classical music I played. As an educator, I believe that it’s my responsibility to do whatever is in my power, to not only change that narrative for my students, but also for my community,” shared Portia.

With a matching grant from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s 2019 Knight Arts Challenge and support from the American Composers Forum’s ACF | connect program, Music of the Unsung America addresses the need for diverse representation in Western Classical music through an annual multi-event concert and conversation series. Music of the Unsung America will feature a culturally-diverse ensemble made up of South Florida musicians and showcase works by Black composers, utilizing historic Black spaces as performance venues. It will engage communities throughout South Florida through educational programming, concert conversations, and employing live-streaming production for broader audience access and participation. To find out more about Music of The Unsung America, please visit their Facebook page here:

Information can also be found on ACF’s webpage here:

Launched in 2017, ACF | connect provides sustained support for music creators to build relationships with ensembles based in the United States. Through the development of new work, the program intentionally supports a spectrum of voices and music to advance creative musical expression, which we believe is essential to human culture. Previous collaborations include the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (PNME), Roomful of Teeth, and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians® (AACM)’s Great Black Music Ensemble. “Portia’s project is a model of entrepreneurship and amplifying music by historically-excluded artists to engage a diverse community,” says Vanessa Rose, ACF’s President & CEO. “Her dedication to her home in South Florida and activating equitable opportunities for the artists who share it is inspiring, and we are excited to support her clear, and ambitious, vision.” 

Call for Scores

The first of two calls for scores as part of this partnership is now open. Music of the Unsung America: Celebrating Black Composers in the Shadows of History invites Black composers from or with strong ties to South Florida to submit a preexisting chamber ensemble work for up to 8 performers for consideration. Selected composers will receive a performance of their work, a $1,000 cash award, $500 for workshops with musicians, and a $200 honorarium for a brief panel discussion. There is no application fee. The deadline is November 20, 2020. Complete guidelines and application can be found here:

About Portia Dunkley 

Born to immigrant parents, Portia Dunkley is a native of Miami, FL with Bahamian and Haitian Carribean roots. In 2017, Portia started Teeny Violini, a mobile music education program for preschools and afterschool programs, providing music education services for historically underserved communities, educating students from preschool-5th grade through weekly programming. In 2019 Portia was chosen as a Fellow for the Sphinx L.EA.D (Leaders in Excellence, Arts and Diversity) inaugural cohort. In that same year she was recognized by the Knight Foundation with an Arts Challenge Grant for her project, Music of the Unsung America, a multi event lecture-concert series that highlights music compositions by Black composers in the shadows of history. This project creates opportunities for Black and other professional classical musicians of color in South Florida to perform works by Black composers left out of the “traditional” canon of music. Currently she serves as the new Executive Director of the Refugee Orchestra Project whose mission is to demonstrate through music, the vitally important role that refugees from across the globe have played in our country’s culture and society. Inspired by her own experience as a Black woman musician and double bassist and having learned about these Black composers late in her career, Portia hopes that her work with Unsung America and The Refugee Orchestra Project will help build communities of belonging, amplify the voices and creative talents of marginalized artists and inspire young people of all cultures to see themselves reflected in classical music. 

About the American Composers Forum 

ACF supports and advocates for individuals and groups creating music today by demonstrating the vitality and relevance of their art. We connect artists with collaborators, organizations, audiences, and resources. Through storytelling, publications, recordings, hosted gatherings, and industry leadership, we activate equitable opportunities for artists. We provide direct funding and mentorship to a broad and diverse field of music creators, highlighting those who have been historically excluded from participation.

Founded in 1973 by composers Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus as the Minnesota Composers Forum, the organization continues to invest in its Minnesota home while connecting artists and advocates across the United States and beyond. ACF frames our work with a focus on racial equity and includes within that scope, but not limited to, diverse gender identities, musical approaches and perspectives, religions, ages, (dis)abilities, cultures, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and broad definitions of being “American.” Visit for more information.

American Composers Forum’s ACF | connect program is made possible with the outstanding generosity of the following individuals: Jane Anfinson, Thomas Arneson, Suzanne Asher, Carol Barnett, Pearl and Bob Bergad, Margee and Will Bracken, Karen Brooks, Richard Cisek and Kay Fredericks, Dee Ann and Kent Crossley, Julia W. Dayton, C. Lee Essrig, Rosemary & David Good Family Foundation, Katherine Goodale, Jeff and Hyun Mee Graves, Mike and Kay McCarthy, Carol Heen, Steve Heitzeg and Gwen Pappas, Kathleen Henschel and John Dewes, Linda and Jack Hoeschler, Leaetta Hough and Bob Muschewske, Sam Hsu and Sally Cheng, Hella Mears Hueg Estate Gift, Thelma Hunter Estate Gift, John and Ruth Huss, George Frederick Jewett Foundation East, Art and Martha Kaemmer, Jon Lewis and Lisa Merklin, Greg McNeely, Alfred and Ann Moore, Louis and Gloria Nuechterlein, John Nuechterlein and Dan Monson, John and Debbie Orenstein, I.A. O’Shaughnessy Foundation in memory of Thelma Hunter, David and Judy Ranheim, Denice Rippentrop, Vanessa Rose, Bill and Susan Sands, Gale Sharpe, Doug and Kathy Skor, Dan and Ellie Thomas, Stephen and Jayne Usery, Kathleen van Bergen, Janika Vandervelde, Jim Wafler, and Margaret and Angus Wurtele.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation  

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit